Palmetto pitcher Ryan MacInnes has no intention of pursuing a collegiate baseball career.
After Thursday afternoon’s performance in the GMAC championship game, perhaps he may want to reconsider.
MacInnes locked himself into a classic pitcher’s duel with Southwest’s Michael Padron as the Panthers scraped across two runs in the fifth and held on to nip the Eagles 2-1 at Southwest High School in a game that came down to the final pitch. It marked Palmetto’s first GMAC baseball title since 2006.
Pitching on two days rest, MacInnes, who brought a 6-1 record and 1.2 ERA into the game and is headed to the University of Florida to concentrate on academics, bulldogged it in the mid-afternoon heat, giving up just four hits and striking out five hitters in five-plus innings before giving way to relievers Roger Ceballos and Jake Sheeder, who recorded the final five outs.
“The kid is an absolute genius,” Palmetto coach Danny Smith said. “He has a 5.6 GPA, graduating in top five percent of his class and will probably make a lot more money doing whatever career he chooses rather than baseball.” And it’s because he studies the game. He comes into the dugout and studies the chart and then will go out there and outsmart hitters a lot of times rather than overpower them.”
The game went scoreless into the fifth when the Panthers (20-4) got MacInnes the only two runs he’d need when Alex Castaneda stepped up with runners on second and third and two outs and greeted Padron’s first pitch and lined it to the left-center field gap for a 2-run double.
“My fastball was on and I was really working the corners well,” said MacInnes, who has drawn interest from small schools but intends to stick to his UF plan. “I was working the inside half of the plate really well so that kept their hitters off the plate which opened up the outside of the plate which enabled me to do whatever I wanted. I really started getting fatigued in the fifth and sixth inning but knew my bullpen would nail it down for us and they did.”
Only thanks to center fielder Victor Valderrama who made the defensive play of the game in the last of the sixth.
After the Eagles scraped across a run in the fifth on a two-out RBI infield single by Erick Orbeta to slice the Panther lead in half, Jorge Tejada led off the sixth with a base hit.
Eddie Sierra then laced a shot toward the gap in right center field that would’ve put runners on second and third with no outs. Instead, Valderrama came flying over and stretched out, snagging the ball just before it hit the ground.
Ceballos then came in and recorded the next two outs. After recording the first two outs in the seventh, he gave up a base hit and a walk putting the tying run at second. Sheeder then came in and induced a game-ending groundball to shortstop off the bat of Damian Alfonso to end it.
“That could’ve been win or lose right there,” said Valderrama, the team’s No. 1 pitcher and Rutgers commit. “I just stretched out and got it. This is a great win to carry this on to districts.”
When the topic of the “GMAC curse” came up, a reference to teams in the past the have won GMAC titles only to stumble in the district playoffs, Smith balked.
“This GMAC curse thing that they talk about? I don’t buy it,” said Smith whose team will be looking for a return to the state final four after dropping a state semifinal game to Orange City University last year. “This is playoff baseball and both teams competed today and the kind of game you want to be in leading up to the district playoffs next week. We understand the pressure is on now and that’s it win or go home but we welcome that.
“I’ve got a very good baseball team and in fact I will tell you I’ve been around this game and this program for a long time and this is the greatest team I’ve ever coached. Not just from a baseball standpoint but personality-wise and how they get along and how smart they are out on the field. They make it fun to coach.”